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How to safely wean colt?

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  • How to safely wean colt?

    I took in a mare and foal in order to find them a home. I would like to wean the colt in order to work better (and more safely) with both of them. The colt is 4 months old, eating grain and hay, and definitely ready to be weaned. However, my set up does not really permit a good situation for weaning. I have only one huge fenced pasture, in which is a 2 stall barn (so the horses in the pasture can hang their heads in the stall door and vice versa).

    My question is, do you do the "quick and dirty" weaning, and ship momma off out of earshot and eye sight? Or do you slowly get them used to being apart? My problem is I will have to send the mare or the colt to another farm, in order to do this. I will if its the best way. My other option is to let the colt out, and keep the mare in the stall, for small periods of time. But I just DON'T see this working. I took the mare out today to see how she moved on the lunge and the person standing by the stall door literally had to push the little one back down in the stall as he was about to come up and over the stall door and trying to break his neck (or legs). So I rushed momma back in the stall. I'm thinking maybe the other way around would work? Let the colt out, but keep the mare in? But then that's not going to work either for long periods of time.

    I am really at a loss. I do not breed horses, and I've never had to wean a foal. I have no idea the right way to go about it. I think they both would have a better chance at being adopted seperately, and after they've both had a bit of work. The colt has never been touched (or haltered), and the mare needs some under saddle work. But I can't do either with them both together and still dependent on each other.

    Thanks in advance!
    Horses are the way into a woman's heart!

  • #2
    While as you stated you don't have an idea situation, if you can use the two stalls seperate them, at first just a few minutes then longer, one in each stall. You may need to rig up something if you don't have bars, so baby will not jump out. In our barn, we have a larger breeding barn, we have one stall that has a full front of bars (no openings). this is the weaning stall. We do the gradual method, we put babies in a pasture next to their mom's and go from there.

    If there is some way to corral panel off a section of the pasture for baby to be in next to mom but not be able to nurse mom you can do that too. Unfortunately it takes time for even if you put them back together too soon he may still try to nurse, and she may let him, and then you'd have to do it all over again.

    If you use the "here one day gone tomorrow" method, moving the mare to another farm may be better. This way you have the foal to work with more.


    • #3
      I think I'd opt for taking the mare off the property, unless you could put in reliable cross-fencing. I'd divide the pasture into three sections so the middle section is empty (no way for baby to nurse through the bars/wires or even have nose contact with mom).

      Do you have other horses or are these two the only ones? I'm not crazy about the idea of the little guy "home alone" with no playmates or aunties when his dam is removed. And you will have to be very careful about the fencing and the barn to ensure that he doesn't hurt himself during or after her departure.

      I get the sense you are trying to hurry things along a bit, to get the mare and foal sold. But four months is my very MINIMUM age for weaning and I'd only do that if the foal was bringing the mare down. I generally shoot for 5 or 5-1/2 months. I think it's easier at that older age, also.
      Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst.


      • #4
        I don't quite understand how you can say that the colt is definitely ready to be weaned when he then tries to jump over the door of the stall when mom is away. He's obviously NOT ready yet. How long have you had those two? Have they had a chance to settle in and get over whatever stress they had before? I would make VERY sure that they're both happy and healthy and very settled before I would upset the apple cart again.

        As other people have suggested, make sure your fencing is good and not an invitation for disaster before you separate mom and son. I agree that starting to feed them in adjoining stalls would be a good way to start the separation process. Pretty soon you'll be able to leave them apart longer and longer, and then the complete separation will not be the trauma it would be now. My foals spend the whole night in a stall next to mom's and then go out with them for the day before I think about weaning. Also, the foal will definitely need a buddy - preferrably one he meets way before weaning - before you take mom away.

        Good luck!
        Siegi Belz
        2007 KWPN-NA Breeder of the Year
        Dutch Warmbloods Made in the U. S. A.


        • #5
          I would defnitely give it more time - 4 months is early. it's nice when the mare is "ready" to have her own space - they get tired of it after a while, including the great mares that love their babies no matter what. When we weaned, we took both the mare and baby to a local barn, put them both in the stall for a few minutes, and then took the mare out, loaded her on a trailer and took her back home. The mare was fine, called for the baby a few times, but when she got back realized she was the top mare again and loved it. The baby had a FIT in the stall, but was confined and did not get hurt which is the most important aspect of this ordeal (the owner of the barn watched after her until i got back). If you do it this way, make sure you find a barn that has experience with babies and is as concerned about your baby's well being as you are. When you do wean and you seperate the baby from mama, use that time to work with it in the stall, but i strongly encourage you NOT to let the baby out for a week or two until it has settled down and gotten adjusted regardless of how you wean it. You have no idea what the baby will do since they are so unpredictable, particularly when they are frantically trying to find mama. In the meantime, i'd work on getting that halter on the baby and doing as much as you can on the ground along with mama so that it begins to trust you. When it gets weaned, you will in a sense become mama and the bond will be incredible. My baby knows I'm there just from the sound of my car door shutting. This may not be the ideal scenario for you, but it's what worked in my situation.


          • Original Poster

            The reason I wanted to wean him is because mom is sick and tired of him. When he follows her when she runs in the pasture, she kicks and paws at him. I've been trying to feed him in a foal creep feeder, and her in her bucket, but he tries to eat her food and she violently kicks at him. I'm really afraid that the little one is going to get hurt with momma so "fed up" with him.

            I have no problem keeping them together longer, I just really really need to get my hands on that colt. He needs to be haltered, he needs to be touched all over and loved. Otherwise his future is a dim one. They both came in in good weight, good health, etc. But I don't know how to work with the colt while he is with mom. I've tried touching him in the stall while he's with mom, but he runs circles around her (I have another experienced horse handler hold mom while I try to talk to him, and earn his trust etc). Then mom gets upset and antsy because her foal is running around her and she thinks we are going to hurt him.

            I'm afraid if I wait even longer he's going to be even bigger, and stronger, and more untrustful because he hasn't had any hands on.

            Any suggestions for getting a halter on him so that I can slowly start earning his trust? I've worked with weanlings on up before, but never a suckling, and never one that hasn't been touched. I did get a PMU in the rescue once, and he hadn't been touched, but he was food motivated so I started by feeding him out of a bucket near me, then by my feet, then while I held it, then began touching his face and neck while he ate out of the bucket I was holding. This guy likes food, but when it comes down to eating while I am anywhere in SIGHT, he is more scared and not motivated at all by the food to come near me.

            Thank you SO MUCH for the advice. I think we'll probably do the slow separation way. Being a mom myself I would hate to do the here today, gone tomorrow sort of deal, I think it would just be so traumatic on them both. I also didn't want to do the slow weaning process if that would just draw things out and not work in the long run.

            I do have two other horses out here. A very very patient older gelding that would be excellent and calming for the colt, and a middle aged mare who is gentle and bottom of the pecking order. The colt would probably be let out with the gelding at first, I can trust him to cozy up to the colt and be a calming influence on him. I'm going to put a double door on one of the stall doors this weekend. That way, when I am feeding them in the seperate stalls, he cannot try to jump out and injure himself.

            Should I also remove the water buckets just while they are seperated? I'm afraid of him trying to panic and jump up the wall and getting a leg stuck in the bucket. Other than that the stalls are free of anything that could hurt him, and the walls are about 12' high. He can still sort of see momma through the stall slats to the adjoining stall, and can definitely hear her, and she him.

            My main priority is just that this goes smoothly with no one traumatized, or injured. But I think it is imperative that I get my hands on this colt so that he can start learning that human touch is not a bad thing!

            And I will wait with the weaning process if you think it's too young. I'm just afraid with mom's reactions too him (she seems highly annoyed by him), that she is going to injure him. I think SHE is saying she is ready. He does graze on the grass, he eats hay no problem, and grain. I only see him nursing a few times a day, mostly when he is insecure (i.e. I have entered the pasture, or taken them in and out of the stall to clean the stall, etc).

            I really appreciate the advice. This is one area that I am NOT familiar with.
            Horses are the way into a woman's heart!


            • #7
              With the help of another person you should be able to catch the colt in his stall. When he runs aroun mom to avoid you, the other person should be on the other side of mom keeping him from going round and round. Have the halter ready and approach the colt from his left side, put your right arm around his neck near the withers and then use both hands to quickly slide the nose part over his muzzle. Be prepared for a little jumping attack but hold on and try to buckle the halter. Use a halter with a grab strip or a short length of rope that stays attached to it to facilitate catching him quickly. Leave the halter on for a while but make sure there are no hooks or other things it could get caught on.

              With the halter you have a fairly easy way of restraining the colt and you should use that time to pet him all over and telling him what a good boy he is. Pretty soon he will associate good things with the halter.....

              Good luck!
              Siegi Belz
              2007 KWPN-NA Breeder of the Year
              Dutch Warmbloods Made in the U. S. A.


              • #8
                You definitely need to get this colt handled BEFORE weaning in my opinion. At least need to be able to get a halter on and begin leading. As for weaning you absolutely need a solid tall stall door. I wouldn't aattempt weaning without it. The only other option is to wait until he is very bonded to the other horses and then remove the mother at the appropriate time from the farm altogether. He would then stick to the other horses ok. It is important for a young horse to learn to be in a stall quietly though and this usually requires a tall stall door for safety. They do break legs going over stall doors.

                I think being very very patient and sitting in the stall for hours is your best bet. Or brushing on Mom and ignoring him completely. He needs to be comfortable with you in his space. Can you feed his mother in a way that he can't get to it and then while she is tied or contained offer the bucket. Maybe if he is hungry enough it will help him overcome his fear--especially if you have taken the time to just be in the stall until he is not so fearful first?
                Ladybug Hill--Hunters and Ponies
                WWSD? (what would Suerte do?)


                • #9
                  He needs to have a buddy he is comfortable with (in other words to be socialized to another horse) if that has not happend yet. When the time is right take mom away and leave him in with the buddy. The mom will handle being alone, the colt will not.
                  Providence Farm


                  • #10
                    LadyBugHill is definately correct. Handling should have been done on day 1. I would wait at LEAST another month. I have always weaned mine around 5 months, but every foal is different. I have had some go till 6 months,


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by BREEDINGMANIAC View Post
                      LadyBugHill is definately correct. Handling should have been done on day 1. I would wait at LEAST another month. I have always weaned mine around 5 months, but every foal is different. I have had some go till 6 months,
                      It sounds like she took this pair in recently and didn't have any control over the early life of the foal...this is what she is stuck with now.
                      Providence Farm


                      • Original Poster

                        Yes I just took this pair in from a couple that could no longer care for their horses. They were very responsible in realizing they couldn't afford it and found people to help out with homing the horses BEFORE they were neglected (feed/weight wise, anyways). I agree, foals should be handled from birth on. But unfortunately a lot of Thoroughbred breeders in my area don't touch them until at least after weaning.

                        I am very happy to report that I made some REAL GOOD progress with the colt yesterday at feeding time. I left the mare in the stall and let him out. He didn't panic at all when not enclosed, and out in the pasture with my gelding. When they got too worried I put them back together. He seemed more angry than blind panicky when we seperated them yesterday. He was pawing and shaking his head but not panicking or running around.

                        Then I had someone hold the mare while I tried to talk to him, touch him, etc. He kept spinning and trying to kick me so I would break my touch (don't want to get kicked even by a 4 month old, it would still hurt). So I realized that wasn't good, didn't want reinforce that if he spun and kicked that I would stop touching him! So, I remembered what I did with the untouched 2yo PMU I had here awhile back, and got my dressage whip. I ran it all over him, and refused to break contact. I used it as an extension of my arm. When he spun and kicked I kept touching him with it, until he calmed down and stood there. Finally I got close enough that I got to itch his back, oh he loved that! I taught him that being scratched on his back and butt is WONDERFUL. He had his little lip going, and he was chewing, hanging his head, relaxing. I even touched his face and nose and chest and legs and everywhere but underneath his tummy. I left it at that, and repeated this morning. It only took him maybe 10 minutes to settle and let me get close enough to run my hands all over him.

                        At this rate I think I can safely and calmly have a halter slipped on his head within another session or two. Momma was also EXCELLENT. She stood calmly during the whole thing, and she even got a little desenitizing rubs with the whip and now she's being a lot friendlier and even sticking her head out in the stall to be scratched and itched, and coming up to me in the pasture. So they are getting lots of hands on. I'm very pleased with the progress I've made just in the last 24 hours.

                        Thanks for all your wonderful advice!
                        Horses are the way into a woman's heart!


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by At1Dressage85 View Post
                          Finally I got close enough that I got to itch his back, oh he loved that! I taught him that being scratched on his back and butt is WONDERFUL. He had his little lip going, and he was chewing, hanging his head, relaxing. I even touched his face and nose and chest and legs and everywhere but underneath his tummy. I left it at that, and repeated this morning. It only took him maybe 10 minutes to settle and let me get close enough to run my hands all over him.
                          I think you are golden now. That is a big breakthrough to earning the little guy's trust. just make sure to create lots of opportunities for him to have positive experiences you can reward, and avoid creating ones that provoke disobedience at this stage.
                          Roseknoll Sporthorses


                          • #14
                            GREAT JOB! You sound like you are making good progress! Don't be alarmed at setbacks though--you will likely have some. Be careful and press on!
                            Ladybug Hill--Hunters and Ponies
                            WWSD? (what would Suerte do?)